I know next to nothing about millinery. However, a recent conversation with Linda Rahner about sunbonnets reminded me that I photographed several from a collection that has since been sold. The same collection had Victorian cloth bonnets which may have been made to be worn alone indoors, or under a hat, and it seems logical that their construction would inspire the cloth bonnets used for sun protection. So here are a few sunbonnets and — perhaps — some of their antecedents.
[Tip: If you ever try to search for sunbonnets online, be sure to limit your search by adding “-sue -baby.” Otherwise, Sunbonnet Sue quilts will dominate your results…. ]
This American photo from the late twenties or early 1930’s shows a woman, on the left, wearing a sunbonnet; on the right, her daughter wears trousers.
Trying to date vintage sunbonnets must be a nightmare, because sunbonnets are still being made and sold. The needs of re-enactors, docents at historic sites, and participants in local history days have resulted in many commercial patterns for sunbonnets.
I’m pretty sure this one is “the real thing,” because it is almost worn out.
The rickrack trim on this blue sunbonnet makes me think it may be from the 1930’s — but other opinions are welcome!
My friend’s collection also included some white bonnets, definitely vintage, which I am utterly unqualified to date. However, some have long back flaps (like sunbonnets;) some have been stiffened with parallel rows of cording or quilting; and the basic coif shape goes back a long, long way. If you recognize the period for any of these, feel free to share your knowledge:
The simplest white bonnet or house cap:
Here’s a close up of the fabric — badly mended in one spot:
A more complex cap or bonnet looks similar from the front:
But from the side, it’s another story:
I just discovered that a similar bonnet was illustrated in Godey’s Lady’s Magazine in 1857.
Is a cap like that one the ancestor of those sunbonnets?
This one — perhaps a house cap? — is too elaborate for farm work:
For all I know, one or more of those is really a night-cap….
It’s not quite fair to judge this last masterpiece (and it is one!) without starch, but, since starch attracts insects, it was washed thoroughly before being put into storage. Try to imagine the hand-embroidered lace freshly ironed and standing crisply away from the face:
The voluminous crown suggests that it was made to be worn over a hairstyle like this one:
An earlier cloth bonnet or coif can be seen in The Bonnet Maker, Costumes d’ouvrieres parisiennes, by Galatine, 1824. (Zoom in to see the details of her embroidered bonnet, and the corded bonnets in her hand.)
I no longer own my Godey’s or Harper’s fashion plate anthologies, so I present all these photos for the enjoyment of those who do. Happy hunting.
P.S. If you have never visited the Casey Collection of Fashion Plates, there’s a link in my “Sites with Great Information” sidebar.